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For some families, this question is a no-brainer. “Yes, my kid should get a job because our family has to have the extra income.”  In the perilous economy of the past several years, many hard-working parents rely on their equally hard-working teens to make ends meet. Kids who can shoulder this sort of responsibility without resentment deserve a lot of credit.

But for many families, teen income is spent only on teen desires. And for these families, taking a job to support teens’ purchasing power can be an issue. On the one hand, parents want to be able to say, “If you want that, you’ll have to pay for it yourself.” On the other hand, parents know that to do a good job in school and be prepared for a good-paying job in the future, teens need to devote only the minimum time now to minimum-wage jobs.

What’s the answer?

The answer is that it pays to pay attention to your teen’s job choices. Here are some discouraging facts about teen work:

  1. Most teen workers are supervised by other teens. They’re not being mentored by role-model adults.
  2. Many teen jobs encourage slacker behavior instead of good work habits. Ways to look busy without doing anything, how to take long breaks and even how to sabotage an employer are part of the teen job scene.
  3. Many teen jobs are dangerous. Jobs operating machinery, construction jobs, and delivery jobs are actually prohibited for teens but are among the jobs teens take.
  4. Teens who work tend to get less sleep than other kids and do less well in school.
  5. Most income earned by teens is spent on consumer goods and entertainment. National studies show that only a very small percentage of teen income is saved for college.
  6. To make enough after-tax income to buy the things teens crave requires more minimum-wage hours than can be fit into the end of a school day.

But summertime work can be valuable if chosen carefully. Here are some ideas for guiding your teen in finding work this summer.

  1. Try to find work that is more an apprenticeship than just a job. A position in a computer firm, law office, special education unit, or design company may add to your kid’s education instead of interfering with it.
  2. Choose work that plays to a teen’s strengths. Everyone else might be working at the mall but thinking beyond what’s conventional might lead to work that is more interesting to your teen (and easier to get out of bed for).
  3. Find work that fits your teen’s lifestyle. How many hours a week does she want to work and does she want to work later in the day or earlier? Indoors or outdoors? Does she want to walk to work, take the bus, or will she need a ride (or a car)? What sort of clothes or equipment will she need for the job she’s thinking of?
  4. How much money does your teen want to make and what will he use it for? Having clear goals will help make the work more tolerable and will help him stay focused, and will help him see what sort of work and how many hours will get him to those goals.
  5. If your teen can’t find the work she wants, can she find an unpaid volunteer position? Or can she start a mini-business of her own? These sorts of jobs can give her valuable experience and provide great ways to organize the summer. And both will look good on a college application.

Real-life experience is valuable and can give a teen a great view of the adult world. But help your kid to choose wisely. Finding a summer job can be a good idea for your teen, but only if the job builds character and develops useful life skills.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.

Maybe your teen has already lined up a summer job and can’t wait for school to end so he can get busy. But maybe your teen hasn’t lined anything up yet and doesn’t have many prospects. Maybe your teen can’t wait for school to end so he can goof off.

Now is the time to help your teen make the summer count.

Invite your kid to see the summer as time to devote to a major project of her own choosing. What would she like to learn, what would she like to create, who would she like to meet? What would make the summer not just a break from school but an opportunity to express who she really is?

Any project will do. Don’t think that your teen’s project has to be something that looks good on a college resume because anything your child does on his own over the summer will look good on a college resume. It doesn’t have to be volunteer work. It doesn’t have to be an unpaid internship. Your teen’s summer project could be any in-depth effort. Your teen’s ability to dive into a subject, organize himself, and accomplish goals independently are exactly the sorts of things colleges and future employers look for.

So sit down with your kid and make a list. Encourage her to think big. Remember the woman who set herself the task of cooking every one of the recipes from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year? She not only did the cooking but she blogged about it. The blog became the basis for a book. The book became the basis for a movie. Now no one is saying your child’s summer project needs to end in a movie starring Meryl Streep but a summer project can be multi-faceted. The project and a journal or blog or photo series. The project and interviews of key stakeholders and a white paper sent to the city council. The project and a demo tape or YouTube video.

Now that the tools of production and distribution are attainable via the computer in your home’s den and through free software for blogging, audio editing, websites and teleconferencing, there is no reason for teens to wait for some company to hire them. Every teen can experiment with her dreams right now. Ten weeks of focused effort can lead to wonderful things.

The classic back-to-school essay assignment “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” could describe a watershed moment for your child. Your child, who might be feeling discouraged right now about his job prospects for summer, can be excited to have time free for his own work.  Even your child who’s landed a job might want to consider a small project for her free time.

The sky’s the limit this summer. Help your teen see the possibilities.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.